Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The pioneering Chicano series has been kept in a garage for 50 years.

From time to time, Frank Cruise walked into his spacious garage in Laguna Niguel and contemplated boxes filled with old and unused items: tax returns, clothing and paperwork from his days as a Chicano research professor, reporter and TV presenter, and co-founder. the Spanish-speaking network Telemundo; and a pioneering Latin American-owned insurance company. Not to mention the tapes of many of the boards of directors he has served on, including the Public Service Broadcasting Corporation.

But there was one special large blue box – between another, in which lay the milk teeth of his now grown child, and one with her daughter’s wedding dress – who always gnawed at him. The label read “Chicano Series.”

Inside were nine 16mm films from the television show Chicano I & II: The Mexican American Heritage Series, which first aired on KNBC-TV in Los Angeles in July 1971. in the early 30s, also played at sister stations in Chicago, New York, Cleveland and Washington DC.

For 50 years, the coils remained virtually untouched in his garage.

On one of the recent August days, Cruz, now 82 years old, thought to himself, as he had dozens of times before: “Stupidyou better do something with these movies. It may be too late.

Frank Cruz at home in Orange County.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

And he did it. His contacts led him to a film archivist at USC who digitized the film and created a website for them. For the first time since they aired and replayed in the early 1970s, nine of the 20 episodes of Chicano are now publicly available on the University of Southern California’s Hugh M. Hefner Motion Picture Archive website. (From part of the Chicano II series, the film does not exist, and Episode 6, entitled “The War Years,” was absent from Cruise’s first volume.)

“I was ready to hear it [Dino Everett, the archivist] I couldn’t do it because the film was too fragile, that they were torn and that they weren’t good, because the images fade, ”says Cruz. But after a couple of weeks “after 10 candles and the Santo Niño de Atocha prayer, he called me and said,” Frank, I was able to pass them on. “

Cruz was delighted. “We keep history.”

USC archivist Dino Everett looks at the image and tracking bars on a large screen.

USC archivist Dino Everett pulls an image from the reels of Chicano I & II: The Mexican American Heritage Series.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times) #

They defied boundaries

Strikes in East Los Angeles in 1968, followed by the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., loved by most of the Hispanic community, occurred several months apart. This was followed by a 1970 Chicano moratorium and the assassination of Ruben Salazar, a respected reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

Emerging from this period of social and political activism and fed up with stereotypical portrayal of Hispanics in the media, Sal Castro, a key leader of the historic strikes, and Julian Nava, the first Mexican American, voted for the Los Angeles Board of Education. approached Los Angeles-based KNBC-TV with a proposal to create a show that explores the challenges facing the Mexican American community and history and culture from a Chicano perspective.

The radio station agreed to broadcast the show. Cruz, a former Lincoln high school teacher and Castro’s colleague who was teaching history at the time at Cal State Long Beach, agreed to host the series after Castro turned down. Cruz’s “Yes” would have changed the course of his professional life – after the 1971 series relaunched in 1972, the KABC-TV news director called Cruz and offered him a job as a reporter covering the Los Angeles Latino community.

Chicano episodes I & II were composed by professors, historians and experts – many of them have established Chicano studies at their universities, including the University of California Los Angeles, Stanford, San Jose State and San Fernando Valley State College (now the California state of Northridge). Topics they covered included the history of migrant workers and the Chicano workforce, economic repression and educational inequality, and the many cultural and other contributions of their Mexican ancestors to the Western world.

“Stereotypes in the media,” I mean you could write a headline with that today! Natalia Molina, professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, talks about one of the headlines in the series.

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According to her, the series tried to show that “Mexicans are naughty, that they are people. They are the same as you and me. They live life in three dimensions. They have families. They create. They were just trying to convey to humanity what we think about when we think about the Latin population. And today we are still trying to do this.

“Nobody has done anything like this,” she adds. “The show was cutting edge back then, and unfortunately I think it’s cutting edge now.”

Many of the show’s guests and interviewees spearheaded the issues and topics raised and were among the first in their field, such as Nava or Ricardo “Richard” Romo, a writer and urban historian whom Molina, 2020 MacArthur Fellow, thanks for laying the groundwork. for her research.

Close-up of hands holding a stack of film spools

Archivist Dino Everett has nine films of Chicano I & II: The Mexican American Heritage Series.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times) #

“These are the people who did this original work for us,” she says, “and challenged all possibilities.”

Romo, the city’s historian, recalls the educational issues raised in the series.

“Many of us have experienced things that upset these students,” says the Texas-born and raised scientist. “There were no books on our history in the libraries. The teachers came from the suburbs and did not understand much of what was happening in our communities. … [They] told us, “You can’t speak Spanish in the classroom or in the schoolyard.”

“Worst of all, there were a lot of good teachers, but many of them didn’t think about the students enough to motivate them to go to college,” says Romo. Only two out of his 400 graduate class went to four-year college. He was one of them.

As innovative as the show was, it is not easy to determine the number of viewers at that time. But judging by his 6 a.m. broadcast, the numbers were likely low. “It was an unpopular hour,” Romo recalls. It was unpleasant.

“It was like, ‘We want to do this, but we can’t give you a good, better hour when we have the highest advertisers,” says Romo, not allowing himself to be too critical because at the end of the day the green light was given to create “one of the first shows of its kind in the entire country.” He just wants modern technology and social media to exist then to expand the audience.

Now it is.

Close-up of hands holding second volume scripts "Chicano I and II"

The scripts for the second volume of Chicano I & II are kept at USC.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Archivist digitizing

Dino Everett is an optimist who calls himself an optimist.

A longtime archivist at the University of Southern California’s Moving Image Archives, Hugh M. Hefner, has learned over the years that “somehow, even if something comes to me in a terrible state, I can usually get something out of it.”

Fortunately, Cruz stored the film reels in the best possible way, albeit by accident: in cardboard boxes that act as an insulator, not in open metal cans.

Everett explains that homes usually lack climate control, so the film stored in metal cans is sensitive to temperature changes. “The difference between hot and cold,” he says, “is what really spoils the movie.”

Archivist Dino Everett in a temperature-controlled vault at the University of Southern California.

“Anyway, even if something comes to me in a terrible state, I can usually get something out of it.” Archivist Dino Everett in a temperature controlled vault at USC.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times) #

Once in his hands, Everett removed the films from the metal spools, ran them through a cleaning machine, then ran them through a film scanner called Kinetta, before running them through a recovery program to clean up minor blemishes such as dust and light flickers. Two weeks and more than 60 hours later, all nine episodes were digitized.

“[Frank] I was very happy to be able to scan them, ”he says. “I wish I could say it happened because of my experience, but they were in really great shape.”

The show, Everett notes, was done in a CRT, the process of recording live TV broadcasts to tape by pointing the camera at a screen or video monitor while the footage is playing back; this is how stations will save and duplicate their live broadcasts and send them to their affiliates.

This process was superseded by the advent of videotapes in the 1950s, so TV channels rarely used it in the early 70s. But videotapes were expensive back then. “It was actually cheaper to make black and white CRTs than to make full color videotapes,” says Everett.

On a recent September afternoon on the phone, Cruz struggled to answer the question: Why didn’t you digitize the film sooner?

After a short silence, he replied: “I could, I wanted to, I should have.”

“Chicano I & II: Mexican American Heritage” can be viewed on the Hugh M. Hefner Motion Picture Archive website of the University of Southern California School of Motion Picture Arts at

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